Category Archives: Referees in the Middle

Referees in the Middle: Keith Hackett

Premier League Career: 1992-1994

First Premier League Match: Ipswich Town 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur (30 August 1992)

Final Premier League Match: Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool FC (30 March 1994)

The majority of Keith Hackett’s career was before the introduction of the FA Premier League but even though he had reached the planned retirement age before the reformation in English football, his exemption onto the list for the inaugural season showed how well-respected he was.

Hackett’s record is right up there with the best in the business. In a list maintained by the IFFHS (International Federation of Football History and Statistics), Hackett is within the top 100 referees. When he retired in April 1994, he had been refereeing for over 34 years.

Like many of his peers, Hackett began in the local leagues in 1960, taking charge of games across Yorkshire. He became a Football League linesman in 1972 and four years later, had progressed to the full list of officials. He was just 32 years old when this milestone was achieved.

His best period was the 1980s. He was one of the youngest referees to ever have the privilege of officiating at the FA Cup final which was in those days, the ultimate domestic honour in English club football. Hackett’s year for the showpiece was the 1981 classic between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City which finished 1-1 before the Ricky Villa magic in the replay days later.

Three years later, he was back at Wembley to do the all-Merseyside Charity Shield when a Bruce Grobbelaar own goal meant Everton beat Liverpool FC. The domestic set was complete when he got the 1986 League Cup final as Oxford United won their only knockout trophy, defeating Queens Park Rangers 3-0.

In 1988, Hackett was the English choice of official at the 1988 European Championships in West Germany. He took control of the hosts’ 1-1 draw with Italy during the group stages which was played in Cologne. Later that summer, he went to the Olympic Games to officiate in the football competition in Seoul, South Korea. Again, he looked after a West German match, this time the semi-final with Brazil which ended 1-1 but saw the South Americans win on penalties.

In October 1990, he had to deal with one of the toughest incidents of his or anyone’s career when a 21-man brawl broke out at Old Trafford during a league clash involving Manchester United and Arsenal. Hackett and his match officials handled a tricky situation with stern punishments for both clubs. After consultations between them and the FA, Manchester United were docked one point and deducted two points from Arsenal’s total. The Gunners’ still won the league championship.

When the Premier League began, the new league could trust on Keith Hackett’s judgement and control. He took charge of 36 Premier League matches, handed out just 38 yellow cards and didn’t dismiss a single player. In that period, he only awarded three penalties and two of those were in one match when Oldham Athletic lost 4-1 to Tottenham in the inaugural season. He retired just short of his 50th birthday in 1994 with his last match in the middle being a blockbuster encounter between Manchester United and Liverpool FC. United won the midweek match 1-0 with Paul Ince scoring the only goal.

After retiring from officiating, Hackett became a referees’ assessor and in March 2004, he replaced Philip Don to be appointed General Manager of the PGMOB (Professional Game Match Officials Board). His knowledge has also come through in publishing through books, cartoon quizzes and columns for the Observer and the Daily Telegraph.

He is honest enough in his assessments too. At the end of the 2016-2017 campaign, he stated in a strong article that the likes of Jon Moss, Kevin Friend and Roger East shouldn’t be retained on the current elite list.

Keith Hackett is still a strong voice in the game and he won’t hold back either. People listen to his frank and honest assessments nowadays, just like they did when he was controlling football matches in the middle.

Referees in the Middle: Steve Bennett

Premier League Career: 1999-2010

First Premier League Match: Derby County 1-3 Middlesbrough (14 August 1999)

Final Premier League Match: Aston Villa 0-1 Blackburn Rovers (9 May 2010)

Steve Bennett spent over 25 years in the middle and achieved some high-profile milestones during his career. He was a no-nonsense referee who would always stick to the strict rules but was also a referee who did his best to not be the centre of attention.

After starting out in the regional, local and non-leagues, Bennett began refereeing in the Football League in 1995. Four years later, he made the jump into the top-flight. His first match was Middlesbrough’s 3-1 away win at Derby County in August 1999.

One of his early appointments in his Premier League career was an ill-disciplined match involving Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United in January 2001. It is rare to see three red cards in the same match but that is what happened at White Hart Lane. Neil Sullivan, Nolberto Solano and Kieron Dyer were all sent for an early shower by Bennett as Tottenham won 4-2.

Mr Bennett has refereed in other tricky situations. In 2004, Tim Cahill scored the only goal of the game at the City of Manchester Stadium (as it was known then) to win all three points for Everton. It was the Aussie’s first goal for his new club and he celebrated by baring his chest to his new supporters. However, this counted as a bookable offence in the eyes of Bennett and having cautioned Cahill earlier, promptly sent him off. The decision left David Moyes speechless and drew criticism from top FIFA officials.

Four years later, he was involved in another flashpoint incident involving a Merseyside club. Manchester United were playing Liverpool FC at Old Trafford when Javier Mascherano was dismissed for constant protesting and arguing with Bennett. The Argentine completely lost his discipline and started using expletive language towards the official. Only the intervention of his teammates and manager Rafa Benitez stopped the matter escalating further. Mascherano later apologised for his actions and admitted his behaviour was “inappropriate.” After this incident, a daily newspaper launched a ‘Shut It’ campaign, which was started to urge footballers to respect the referee and curb their argumentative behaviour.

Steve Bennett was lucky enough to referee the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley when Didier Drogba scored the only goal of a disappointing contest between Chelsea and Manchester United in 2007. He was a lucky omen for the men from west London, also refereeing the 2005 League Cup final in Cardiff against Liverpool FC. The 3-2 victory was Jose Mourinho’s first piece of silverware in English football.

In July 2010, two months after taking control of a final day match between Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers, Bennett retired from the frontline and is now a full-time coach, passing on his wise methods onto the younger generation of officials.

Referees in the Middle: Stuart Attwell

Premier League Career: 2008-2010, 2016-

First Premier League Match: Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Hull City (23 August 2008)

Nuneaton-born referee Stuart Attwell has worked hard throughout his refereeing career and is now among the Premier League referees list for a second time after a spell back in the Football League.

Starting out in the non-league ranks, Attwell’s first Football League appointment came in 2007 for a fixture in League Two between Hereford United and Rotherham United.

His first full Football League campaign impressed many of his peers and observers and at the age of 25, he became the youngest-ever official to referee a Premier League match when Blackburn Rovers drew 1-1 with newly-promoted Hull City in August 2008. This record has since been broken by Michael Oliver but it was a great accomplishment in such a short space of time.

A year later, he was added to the international referees’ roster and has taken charge of international friendlies, UEFA Champions League qualifiers and a group stage game involving Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Europa League.

Controversy has followed Attwell around occasionally – as it has for many referees over the years. In 2008, he and one of his assistants gave Reading an infamous “ghost goal” in a Championship match at Vicarage Road against Watford. His linesman on the day, Nigel Bannister mistakenly flagged for a Reading goal when he should have given a corner kick only. The bizarre incident left him off-duty for the following weekend.

In September 2010, another strange incident occurred in a Premier League game between Liverpool FC and Sunderland. Sunderland had a defensive free-kick which Michael Turner rolled back to Simon Mignolet. Believing the Black Cats had taken the free-kick; an instinctive Fernando Torres ran onto the loose ball, stopped to check with the officials that it was okay to play on and then rolled the ball into Dirk Kuyt’s path for an easy tap-in. The goal was given, much to the condemnation of the Sunderland players and management.

In February 2012, Attwell was dropped from the Select Group list. Mike Riley admitted: “Throughout his career in the Select Group, Stuart has demonstrated great courage and mental strength in responding to the challenges that he has faced. Stuart has a high level of maturity and responsibility and I’m convinced that he has a long-term future as a referee at the very highest level.”

His last Premier League appointment was a New Years’ Day 2012 encounter between West Bromwich Albion and Everton and was seen as a strange decision for the change to happen mid-season. Stuart wouldn’t referee another top-flight match until November 2014 when the Baggies’ won a fixture away at Leicester City.

Sporadic Premier League appointments would follow but Attwell’s hard work was rewarded with a return to the Select Group list in time for the 2016-2017 campaign. His return came for Hull’s 2-0 win at Swansea City in August 2016; their only away Premier League success of the season. Attwell would referee another 10 top-flight games during the season. Still in his mid-30s and nearly 80 matches under his belt, he looks set to fulfil what Riley said about him and have a long-term future as a man in the middle at the highest level.

Referees in the Middle: Paul Alcock

Premier League Career: 1995-2000

First Premier League Match: Coventry City 2-1 Manchester City (23 August 1995)

Final Premier League Match: Liverpool FC 0-0 Southampton (7 May 2000)

Born in 1953, Paul Alcock spent over 20 years in professional football and was a Premier League referee from 1995-2000.

Originally from Surrey, Alcock became a linesman in the Football League in 1982 and spent six seasons running the line at many English grounds. He joined the Premier League referee list in 1995 and his first game in charge was on the first midweek round of fixtures in the 1995/1996 season. Dion Dublin scored a late header in Coventry City’s 2-1 win over Manchester City at Highfield Road.

He is most famously known for a dramatic incident in a match at Hillsborough between Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal in September 1998. The trouble began a minute before half-time when Patrick Vieira reacted angrily to a sly challenge from Petter Rudi. Paolo di Canio got involved and as players from both sides attempted to break things up, di Canio kicked out at Martin Keown.

This was spotted by Alcock who sent the charismatic Italian off. Di Canio’s response was to thrust his hands into Alcock’s chest and push him to the ground in a complete moment of madness. He was then involved in a further confrontation with Nigel Winterburn before being ushered from the field of play. Sheffield Wednesday suspended their maverick almost immediately.

At an FA hearing a month later, Di Canio was banned for 11 matches and fined £10,000. Alcock considered quitting the game after the incident and he wasn’t happy with the punishment, saying: “I am concerned that the message being sent out by the FA can be interpreted as being lenient.”

Alcock continued refereeing in the Premier League until May 2000 before dropping back into the Football League for two seasons. His final match was a Division One game between Norwich City and Stockport County in 2002.

After hanging up his whistle, Alcock went into the retail industry, becoming the shopping centre manager of the Malls Chequers in Maidstone. He retired from that role in 2014 and has also held roles with the Maidstone Leisure Trust, along with still being a football referee assessor in the Championship.

In March 2017, he admitted in a newspaper interview that he was battling cancer for a third time. Initially diagnosed in 2015, I would like to wish him well in his battle to beat the cruel disease once more.